On our music

African American religious music has had an important place in American culture from its beginnings in nineteenth-century Negro spirituals to the development of twentieth-century black Gospel music. Most scholars agree that the roots of Negro Spirituals can be found in the white camp meeting songs, but that the performance style and the changes in songs reflect the cultural heritage of Africa and the black experience in the South. Whites placed emphasis on the words of religious songs, and blacks generally emphasized the music over the words. Black religious music has been characterized by vocal effects difficult to indicate by standard notation, elaborate vocal ornamentation, frequent melodic interjections, extreme freedom and individuality in performance, strong kinetic factors in performance (e.g., shouting and dancing), heavy improvisation, complex rhythms, and call and response/solo and chorus style. Black college singers such as the famous Fisk University Jubilee Singers firmly established the Negro Spiritual during the later nineteenth century. These jubilee singers and all-black minstrel shows, along with the rise of the holiness movement at the end of the nineteenth century, constituted the roots of twentieth-century black Gospel style. Black gospel music came into its own in the 1930s with such composers as Thomas A. Dorsey adding Gospel lyrics to the blues and jazz traditions. Two nationally prominent black Gospel composers–Lucie E. Campbell and the Reverend William H. Brewster (“Surely God Is Able”)–were from Memphis. Black Gospel quartets began to flourish in the 1940s at the beginning of the golden age of Gospel music (1945-60), and Tennessee was prominent in the movement. Black quartets usually consisted of four to six voices, one of which was the lead singer. As black Gospel flourished, quartets were all-male, all-female, or mixed. In addition the tradition included larger Gospel choirs, which became a standard feature in African American church services. Modern recording and broadcasting technologies and commercialization expanded the choirs’ influence after World War II. Even as secular music influenced Gospel music, Gospel music influenced much of secular music–jazz, blues, and soul. This cross-pollination process is still bearing new fruits in many musical fields, including opera and classical music. Notes on Negro Spirituals and Gospel Music Save the African American Spiritual Fidelio Article, Spring 2001 issue. Sylvia Olden Lee, who is featured in this article, was Gregory Hopkins vocal coach and mentor. Audio history of Gospel Music

Excerpts from press reviews
"The magic of Gospel enchants la Rupe (the rock of Orvieto). The traditional appointment with the black voices excites and convinces." Il Messagero, Italy, January 2nd, 2012
"To close 5 days of music, yesterday evening, at Il Duomo (of Orvieto) the traditional Mass for Peace, was marked this year by the inspiring gospel songs of the Harlem Jubilee Singers, conducted by Gregory Hopkins, who three years ago performed in Orvieto an acclaimed presentation of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts as part of the Umbria Jazz Festival." Corriere Dell’Umbria, Italy, January 2nd, 2012
"Moving African American sounds transcended at the Ruins of Huanchaca. The Harlem Opera Choir and the Symphony Orchestra of the University of Concepcion gave an unique and remarkable show. The Best Gospel in the world marveled Antofagasta. The Harlem Opera Choir made an impression by the vocal quality of its singers." El Mercurio, Antofagasta, Chile, November 10th, 2012
"Gregory Hopkins and The Harlem Jubilee Singers turned the event into a gala thru their display of talent, at the Plaza Alonso Vidal." El Imparcial, Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, May 26, 2012
"Gospel Music takes Iquique by storm. The Harlem Opera Choir delighted the local community." La Estrella de Iquique, Chile, November 12th, 2012
"EXTRAORDINARY VOICES. The choir from New York gave one of the best evening performances in the history of the festival." Expreso, Mexico, May 27th, 2012
"Harlem Opera: mesmerizing." Diario de Cuyo, September 10th, 2012
"Throughout the entire concert, each of the choir members turned into a soloist, with a voice of overwhelming virtuosity. “I had a chance to listen to them in Harlem, a week after Obama’s victory- recalls Jean-Paul Boutellier- it was fabulous. It is one of the finest American choirs these days." Jean-Luc Coppi, Le Dauphine Liberere, Vienne, July 29th, 2009
"I should better talk about this group of 16 members, not as much as a choir, but as a formidable ensemble of soloist voices, accompanied by bass, piano and drums, though there also performed a capella songs, as in the origins of their music tradition." P. Gutierrez, El Alfeizar, Guanajuato, Mexico, October 14th, 2008
"The San Martin Theater enjoyed a religious feast thru the fantastic accords of Gospel Music. The African American choir performed twice to full houses, and had a great impact." Juan Pablo Sanchez Noli, La Gaceta, Tucuman, 2005
"With Hopkins and his choir we enjoyed again the best of Gospel Music." Ricardo Salton, Ambito Financiero, Buenos Aires, 2003
"A mix choir from a church on Convent Avenue, Harlem (New York), made vibrate the Luna Park Stadium for three nights in a row. Their religious songs provoked indescribable emotions in the audiences." Jorge Aulicino, Clarin, Buenos Aires, 2001
"The San Martin Theater enjoyed a religious feast thru the fantastic accords of Gospel Music. The African American choir is awesome." Juan Sánchez, La Gaceta, Rosario, 2005
"Blue Monday” is well worth encountering when enacted by a cast and crew as good as those mustered here. Gregory Hopkins, Harlem Opera Theater’s artistic director, did an outstanding job of conducting widely dispersed performers, including a string quartet from the Harlem Chamber Players." Steve Smith, New York Times, June 19, 2013